As luck would have it, our choice of paths brought us back to Stockholm. We’d passed up visiting earlier, as it was a hefty detour. I’d originally wanted to travel much farther north in Norway before entering Sweden, but I’d seriously underestimated the amount of time required. Now that we were back in Oslo, the best way to Finland was via a ferry from Stockholm.
We made our way out of Norway, careful to save a tiny amount of money by refilling with fuel before the border – who’d have thought that Norway had cheaper fuel than Sweden? (Who’d have thought that it is cheaper than Italy, too!)
After crossing the border, we were suddenly in the midst of some giant shopping centres. I’d forgotten about the other outlet malls set up just inside the Swedish border on the West Coast. I was lucky enough to find a Lidl, allowing me to stock up on muesli again (I’m a fan of their fruit/nut blend).
Once we’d passed the border area, the roads shrunk, and we were driving inside some dense pine forests, with only the occasional farm breaking the monotony. In a way, it reminded us both of our time crossing Siberia.
Our map showed that we were passing by some rather large lakes, however, we weren’t able to see anything from the road. It was getting late in the day, so we found a nice secluded park spot in the nearby forest. It was a tough drive up a steep gravel road – which isn’t easy in a rear-heavy front-wheel drive car. It was a surprisingly large picnic area that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Then we spotted the giant lookout tower, and it all made perfect sense.
After dinner, we braved the tower, which was a little dangerous with the steep and slippery steps. But, the view was worth it, finally seeing the lakes that we’ve been driving past, hidden deep inside the dense pine forests.
We continued on the path towards Stockholm. The roads slowly got larger, as did the towns. Otherwise, the pine forests, lakes and flat farmland stayed the same.
I thought it entertaining to visit IKEA while in Sweden, and as I wanted a mattress topper anyway, we made a visit. I’d shamefully enjoyed the hot dogs while in The Netherlands, so thought it would be another cheap meal. Somehow it felt depressing today, rather than enjoyable. There was only the usual sauce/mustard condiments, not the pickles or fried onion, which made for a soggy flavourless meal – but at least it was a cheap flavourless meal. The mattress topper has helped with comfort, but now my bed sits that little bit closer to the roof, stealing precious space I didn’t have.
Once again, we were feeling a little guilty at not exploring more of the smaller towns in Sweden. Sigtuna sounded good, with a pretty wooden old town, and possibly Sweden’s oldest main street – plus, it wasn’t much of a deviation from Stockholm.
We arrived to drizzle and cold winds, and just getting out of the car was a little of a test of wills. We put on our rain coats and a brave face, and went to go have a look at the town.
The church was said to be historic, and the most striking site in town. I was worried, because I didn’t find it all that interesting, and if this was the highlight, then maybe we were in for disappointment.
It was a short walk in to the main street in town, which was filled with colourful wooden shops. I’m hoping (for their sake) that it was a ghost town because it was 5PM on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon. It’s always depressing to see so many tourist orientated shops, without a tourist in sight. The street could have been pretty, but the advertising and signage was too distracting to truly enjoy.
However, something that I did find awesome, and had wanted to see, were the Rune Stones. I’d wanted to see one of the really famous ones, depicting the story of Sigmund slaying the dragon, but as always, it wasn’t in a convenient location for our travels. These stones are said to be scattered all over the country, and are memorials of people. It sounds like a tombstone, but not erected over a grave.
The main street was pretty short, and eventually we’d reached the end. We’d made a detour to visit this town, so wanted to make the most of it, and tried to look for more interesting sights. We tried following some of the older streets towards the lake, and then walked along the shore and through the park. We both realised that we were trying to enjoy the town, and weren’t really, so made our way to Stockholm.
We read about a car park near central Stockholm that was only 150SEK (€15) for 24-hours, so we made our way there. It didn’t take long to get in to town, though with the road works taking place there were a few exits that we were supposed to take that weren’t possible, confusing our satellite navigation no end. Sure enough, there were a dozen or so other motorhomes lined up along the waterfront of this absolutely prime location.
In a fantastic twist of fate, the clouds had now passed, and the skies were fantastically clear and sunny – though, it was mostly decorative, as it was only 13˚ outside in the sun.
It was less than a 5-minute walk to the beautiful red brick town hall where the rest of the Nobel prizes are awarded (the prize for peace is handed out in the Oslo town hall – also a stunning red brick building). The columned walk way made it seem like a modern version of Doge’s Palace in Venice, but capped with elegant towers.
Walking a little further, we were in Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. True to it being an old town, there were narrow cobbled lanes, and pretty buildings. Also true to it being an old town, the streets were filled with shops for tourists – like us.
But, deviating from the main path instantly transported you to a quiet and serene place, where the narrow alleys gave beautiful glimpses of the areas outside. There were surprisingly few tourists while we were here, making it all the more pleasant. It was quite a small area, and didn’t take too much time to wander from one side to the other.
There are said to be several fantastic viewpoints of Stockholm, however this one appealed to me the most. The elevator is closed, but it’s still possible to walk up the stairs at the far side of the platform, and then walk out past the small restaurant/bar/café for amazing, and free, views of the old town as well as a little part of Södermalm, where this viewpoint is situated – we loved watching the retro Stomatol toothpaste billboard light up.
I couldn’t believe our luck with the weather, after driving through heavy rain, and being in miserable drizzle only a few hours ago in Sigtuna. The skies were now nearly perfectly clear, and glowing a wonderful rosy glow.
We were a bit hungry, as it was now around 10PM and we hadn’t eaten since lunch. I’d been recommended MAX burger from a friend, and the reviews seemed reasonable – however, it was on the opposite side of the old town. We descended from the elevator, walked through some of the quiet old streets of Södermalm, and back through the alleys in Gamla Stan. We thought it was beautiful earlier, but now, with live music flowing through the streets, and the gentle glow from street lights and the neon from bars, it was a new experience.
And this is where the positivity ends, and I go into a depressing spiral caused from a fast food chain. I knew that MAX would be depressing, but I hoped that maybe it would be a little like In-and-Out burgers in California. From the very first moment, it was unpleasant. The tables were overflowing with trash, and hadn’t been cleared in hours. The ticketing machines were broken, and it was only luck that I memorised my order number, as it didn’t give me a ticket. The Chrome browser on the display that showed the status of the orders had crashed, so we everyone was standing around the counter, waiting to hear their number be called – in Swedish. Multiple customers returned their meals with mistakes or missing items. And, it took over 20-minutes to be served. All of this could have been forgotten if the food was good, but it wasn’t – it was barely warm, and they had made a mistake with my order (wrong bun, no salad, and filled with jalapenos). I’d considered having them fix their mistake, but it was nearly 11PM, and I wanted to go to bed. Risa’s was OK, and the chips were quite tasty. It just made me wish I’d gone back to the van and had a nice bowl of muesli.
I still can’t believe the location of our campsite. It was sunny, so we went and ate breakfast by the waterfront, with more than a few envious/curious walkers/joggers passing by.
I’m a fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and I’ve always wondered about the Stockholm that he describes with so much detail. There are so many places that the characters visit, and I was curious if there were tours. Of course there are tours, but they are weekly, and we’d missed it. But, there are maps sold that show the locations of the books (as well as the Swedish and US films). My memory of it is a little rusty, but it really helped me piece the locations together – and now that we’ve visited Stockholm, and specifically Södermalm and Gamla Stan, I’ll have to watch the movies again.
I really wanted to visit a decommissioned bunker (White Mountain) that now houses a server hosting company, who have had servers from the likes of Pirate Bay and Wikileaks. It looks like the lair of an evil empire, but sadly it’s a private location, and only open to customers – as can be expected.
But, as a commiseration present, we were able to visit some of the awesome underground stations here. Our first stop was Rådhuset, which with the red exposed ceiling, and the gleaming stainless steel elevator, felt like something from an evil empire’s lair – as I said, decent commiseration prize.
We also visted T-centralen, which was decorated in a much cleaner white and blue scheme that extended throughout the entire station.
Tekniska Högskolan was decorated with all sorts of scientific details, from a crystal with refracted wavelengths, to tiles explaining evolution, carbon cycle, as well as some puzzles that I have no idea about – not knowing a word of Swedish puts me at a rather strong disadvantage.
Stadion was coloured vividly with rainbows and other bright colours.
And finally, Kungsträdgården was decorated in an apocalyptic theme, with deep red and greens, and a truly depressing mural on the ceiling that I’m not sure I’d want to be walking past every day on my commute to work – especially during the long dark winters.
We’d briefly entered the area last night climbing Karolina’s Elevator. I’d heard that it was the hip area of Stockholm, so it only made sense to go see what the fuss is about. We caught the tunnelbana to Slussen, and walked through the streets of the west side of the island. We were surprised at how quiet and sleepy it seemed, with only minimal foot/vehicular traffic, and modest buildings.
We grabbed a meatball lunch, from the appropriately named Meatballs for the People. It’s a simple little place, obviously focusing on meatballs. There were four choices on the menu, which consisted of two different meatballs, with different sauces and accompaniments – all for 125Kr (€13). I was hoping for more than six meatballs, but they were delicious – as was the mac and cheese. I finished feeling a little hungry, and made use of the self-service flat-bread/lingonberry jam.
We kept wandering around, trying to find what makes it a cool place to live. We made it to one of the main streets, which was busier, but seemed just like any other high street. I decided that walking aimlessly wasn’t going to achieve anything, so I searched for the hipster area – which brought us to Drop Coffee. There were nice parks nearby, and vintage clothes/furniture shops in the streets – but still it just felt a little quiet, and dare I say it, boring. I still feel like we’re missing something.
There was a large refugee tent set up on one of the city squares, with police herding people back into the area. They were distressed and quite vocal – but I didn’t understand a word they were saying, though locals didn’t seem to pay it too much attention. It was the most police we’d seen in weeks.
On the way to Vasa Museum, I tried to fly our drone to get an aerial view of the spires of the old town, but it was struggling with magnetic interference. I’m not sure if it was due to metal in the area, or the RADAR of the boats in the harbour interfering? I didn’t feel confident flying out over water, so we gave up, and carried on to Vasa Museum.
Getting here with public transport wasn’t the easiest, and we ended up walking for nearly 30-minutes from the subway. I hoped that the glowing reviews from all my friends that had visited Stockholm meant that the effort was going to be paid off. And when I say all my friends, I mean all, which was surprising for me to have such unanimous praise of a museum.
Because I’d wasted time trying to unsuccessfully fly our drone, we were now a little short on time with the museum, which closed at 6PM. Fortunately we arrived just in time to catch the last of the English tours, which condensed the history of the ship, and the museum into around 30-minutes. She explained how Sweden was previously quite a world power, and was at war with Russia and Poland, and that this boat was to announce the power and capability of Sweden. It was the largest wooden ship built, and some of the design elements were novel (especially to the designer). Unfortunately, it was a little top heavy, and in heavy winds it tilted too far, took in water through the open cannon ports, and sank – and this was all within the first kilometre of leaving on its maiden voyage. It then sat at the bottom of the harbour for some 400 years, until being rediscovered and eventually recovered around 50-years ago. Since then, it has been a monumental conservation project – and jigsaw puzzle.
It took some time after walking through the doors and into the cavernous museum for your eyes to adjust to the low light needed to preserve the timber. But, once they did, it was incredible to see this enormous, and detailed, ship on display. Photographs really fail to convey just how large and beautiful this ship is – and that’s after sitting at the bottom of the ocean for centuries.
They have some replications of the stern decorations, which they have included the glorious colours, too. It was said that the ship was more of a mascot of threat and power, than an actual battleship, with vivid red cannon ports letting the enemy know just how much firepower was at their command.
After the tour, we caught another short film that gave further insight into the history of the ship, as well as some great footage of the discovery, recovery and conservation – which included years of processing the timber to remove all moisture. Fortunately for the ship, the Baltic Sea is very brackish, with high salt and low oxygen, allowing it to survive for so long.
We now had 45-minutes to race around the rest of the museum. The first part was spent just attempting to absorb the lavish decoration and detail on this ship. It’s not easy in the low light, and with such dark timber, but you could see that almost all available area for decoration, was indeed decorated.
There were six levels, with each level documenting different aspects of the ship, from life aboard the ship (I wouldn’t have been very comfortable with such low ceilings), life in 17th century Stockholm, as well as the discovery, recovery and preservation – the conversation team’s work area is open to the public.
Unsurprisingly, the museum lived up to the hype, and we thoroughly enjoyed the little time we had there. It was slightly rushed, but we felt like we saw everything we had wanted to see. We were gently ushered out at 6PM, and found ourselves out in the warm evening sunshine. The area around the museum was also fantastically beautiful, so we had a quick stroll, enjoying the beautiful architecture.
As we walked through the streets towards the old town, we noticed large tents/stages being set up. It turns out that there is a large cultural festival taking place in the centre of town – starting tomorrow night. We’ve already booked our ferry, so can’t stay an extra day.
As we passed by the royal palace, we heard the clacking of boots down the cobblestone, and saw a small group of soldiers doing the evening rounds. I had to admit, they weren’t the most graceful or in tune group – not like the precision we’d seen in Moscow.
It’d been a big day, and our feet , bodies and mind were exhausted. Risa just had a mission to buy a souvenir red wooden horse that she’d seen yesterday. We got lucky that the shop allowed us to buy it, as he’d already closed and packed up the register for the day (thankfully he accepted Euro, as had done my best to spend all my Swedish currency).
Rather than eat out again, we bought a quick snack (more meatballs, rosti, eggs and salad) and returned to the van to eat. It was a little dark by the time we’d arrived, but it was still incredible to think of the views that we were enjoying from our €15/night car park. Once again, I couldn’t but help feel that the locals were a combination of curious and jealous.
There were two choices for the ferry across to Finland. One left at 7AM from Stockholm (and arrived in Turku around 6PM), or another left at 9AM from
Kapellskär (and arrived in Naantali around 5PM), a little further out along a peninsular. It was nearly 100km drive, and we weren’t going to arrive until just after midnight. My eyes were already a little blurred, and the maze of road closures and detours was seriously testing me. We eventually escaped the city, and drove in darkness out to a small rest area just outside Kapellskär, brushed our teeth, set alarms for the morning and passed out.
Stockholm had been wonderful, we both really thought it was a fantastic city – though, we acknowledged that we had visited during nice summer weather, and not in the midst of winter. I’m really glad that our path took us through Stockholm second time around.